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We're Brits abroad (but keep it under your hat)

Turkey in August is extremely hot, and headgear of some sort is necessary. But what style?

Dom Joly
Tuesday 25 August 2015 21:44 BST

A history of Turkey is very much bound up in headgear. Back in 1829, the then Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mahmud II, banned the wearing of the turban in an early attempt to Westernise his subjects. It was part of the extensive Tanzimat reforms that aimed to curb national separatist movements throughout the empire by making everyone feel that little more Ottoman. In its place it was decreed that all subjects should now wear the fez.

It was a bit like Queen Victoria suddenly decreeing that all men in the British Empire should wear top hats, and it went down better in some places than others. But, after initial resistance, the fez was adopted and it became synonymous with the Orient for a century, until Kemal Ataturk introduced the Hat Law in 1925.

Under the Hat Law – an attempt to secularise his new Turkish Republic – it became illegal to wear a fez. Ataturk, a snappy dresser himself, would travel the country sporting a rather fetching series of Western hats including the homburg and the bowler hat as an example to his confused rural subjects. The fez became a symbol of rebellion against this modernisation and the wearing of it was punishable, in some cases, by death.

Modern Turkey has been involved in yet another headgear controversy with a struggle by more devout Muslims to lift the ban on headscarves in universities.

The choice of hat therefore was very much in my mind as we continued our family road trip across Anatolia. It goes without saying that Turkey in August is extremely hot, and headgear of some sort is necessary. But what style to choose? My wife went for the Truman Capote look with an old panama that she had bought years ago. My daughter sported her maroon Harvard baseball cap, that is a constant reminder of what financial nightmares await me should she achieve her proposed educational goals. Meanwhile, my son opted for a racy little blue hat with a pink trim that gave him the look of a young Frank Sinatra on an Asia Minor crooning tour. This left me to complete our silly hat quartet. I eventually opted for a curious type of aerated homburg that I think would have made Ataturk a touch jealous. Unfortunately, this did not appear to be the case with other tourists. I became aware of Brits nudging each other while giggling and then being very unsubtle in their attempts to grab a photo to post online in order to mock my “cultured traveller” look. I tried to rise above it as we wandered about the ancient remains, but we must have looked like a travelling circus and it did some serious damage to our belief that we were “travellers” not tourists.

As we get nearer the Syrian border this choice of headgear becomes a little less pertinent, because we are all aware that the Islamic State option is for no head at all. On Monday we turn north, and start making our way back towards Istanbul. These sartorial conundrums make me rather miss the cloudy skies of England … but not that much.

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